October 25, 2005

Obligatory snow hate entry

As recently noted, the disfunctional bowels of heaven have dumped a layer of the damp, white wet and nasty stuff on us in southwestern Pa. during the prematurely wintered days of October.

I am trying desperately not to hate this, and I'm not entirely failing.

It's the clothes I'm taking comfort in. I was decked out in a brown leather jacket I've been stowing away, along with a wool scarf my mom snagged for me in Ireland and some striped wool gloves.

I was hot, but in a good way. :) That's half the battle. But there's more, and it's not all good.

My car was covered with the white-out-inspired muck. Digging out the scraper from my car's cavernous trunk was something to behold, I'm sure.

Neighbor: "Hurry up, hurry up. Look, this girl's about to fall into her trunk and lock herself in. Come on, come on, fall in....Dang it, she got out.

Oh look, look, she's scraping the bottom of her car first, hahaha it's going to take her -forever- to get out of there."

So, okay, I probably don't have Stewie living next door, but I must have been a sight, wielding my scraper like I'd never picked one up before. What a mess.

Driving was fine. It's like rain. I don't get freaked out unless I have bad tires.

However, when I returned home I had to do the whole "fire dance" thing. It's all part of the heating dilemma inspired by rising fuel prices. We have a woodburner and a natural gas heater. Because gas is rising, we have decided to go with our tree eater more this year.
Should I let the fire die out and get cold or build up the fire and get warm or raise the temperature on the thermostat and make everyone angry? Pacing, pacing. To burn or not to burn? That is the question.

I go with the woodburner.

What are the implications of this decision?

My room is cold. The burner is on the first floor of the house and only warms two rooms sufficiently and the natural gas thermostat is in the living room, which picks up the heat from the burner and never kicks on because it thinks the entire house is as toasty as those two rooms. Sucks to be me, the second floor wind-side resident.

I have splinters and...possible Tetanus? No, probably not, but my dad chopped up something this past summer that had nails in it, and instead of taking the nails out, he will just shovel them out of the ashes when the wood is done heating the miniscule portion of the house. I'm just bitter.

So, anyway, we carry this nail-infested wood into the house, over lawn equipment stowed away under the house, and through several swinging doors. Call me crazy, but I'm afraid of rusty nails. This wood packing jungle gym is just not safe.

I've been thinking of starting a pulley system or something from the ground to the porch, so we don't have to negotiate the ice-covered staircase with nails sticking out inches from our faces.

It's rough, this winter thing. Sure, it's pretty or whatever.


Posted by Amanda Cochran at 9:36 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

October 22, 2005

Accountability for the incompetent

**This blog is not directed toward any Setonian reporter. You may read into it what you will, but none of the information listed below is directed toward any particular person or group. I am fulfilling a requirement for Media Lab and the references, if any are made, are rhetorical and should not be construed as pointing a finger at anyone.**

One of the most difficult things about working with new reporters is placing them where they will be most effective at getting the story and getting it right.

It's a balancing act between what you know the reporter knows, what the person in authority knows and especially, when the reporter knows what the authority figure knows, how they will interpret it.

In truth, reporters are, in some cases, translators, speaking the language of companies, politics and law when they have no previous training in any of these areas. That is why I rejoice in my liberal arts education. I know a little something about lots of things and can, when falling, land on my feet with minimal damage. This knowledge, as a Freedom Forum article notes, "compensates" for the inadequacies of the individual reporter.

Acting dumb is a valuable tool for a reporter, but actually being dumb is another thing all together. Before I interview anyone, I do my homework. I surf the web, find out opposing opinions from previous articles, talk to other reporters about their experiences, and stack the printouts on my desk for future use.

Then, when I have a working knowledge of my subject, I begin writing my questions for interviews.

In the interviews, I sometimes I act like I do not know something to get a good quote. Sometimes I pull facts from a binder and ask the subject about their feelings about my findings or, my favorite, ask about an opinion already stated by another interviewed person.

Reporting is work. Reporters have to be ready for that and also to guage themselves for many, many situations that are often out of their control; however, one must maintain the appearance of control for the self and the story's welfare.

Being "ignorant or incompetent reporters" is a choice. If reporters are called into a beat or even to a story out of the blue, they need to be ready, which may mean working beyond office hours.

That's one of things I love about journalism: the reporter is called into accountability, as well as the organization. The self becomes part of something bigger and is a symbol of that organization. I know that when I don't care, someone else will and vice-versa. In that way, someone or all involved parties benefit from the hard work of the individual, from byline to newspaper's title head.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 12:20 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Coping with corrections

It's going to rain...whoops! I mean, sunny today with a high of 83 degrees and variably cloudy.

I've always poked fun at weather forecasters. They have one of the only professions in which they can provide incorrect information to an entire population on a daily basis and still get paid.

However, as I was reading from a Freedom Forum study, I realized that journalists are permitted the same occupational perk. And, in addition, this article demonstrates, the public relishes the moment when a reporter has the grace to say they are wrong and that is sorry for the erroneous info.

As I have said numerous time before, reporters have egos, and when a correction is placed with your story attached to it, it hurts. Literally hurts. Your story is your story, and, if you have been working on it for a long time, it becomes part of you--an echo of personal experience--despite all the objective bravado you may exhibit on the phone with a reader seeking a correction.

In fact, when my articles have been sent through the correction wringer, I have tried to stay objective, but it does hurt. I am proud to say that I haven't had any substantial corrections placed regarding my work, but I know corrections will be made with my name attached.

This article addresses more of the editorial staff's issues with correction fairness, rather than a reporter's, at least in my experience. If e-mailed responses to articles are received, they go directly to an editor, who decides to either a)address the issue with a correction b)talk with the contact about the problem or c)ignore the issue. C is usually not the case.

No one, especially the editors, want to admit a mistake that has passed their eyes. And, as both editor and writer, I know what that horrible sinking feeling of "bad" information is like, and plastering it up for everyone to see in a large box makes the editors look incompetent. The Tribune-Review, the Mt. Pleasant Journal and the Setonian, all employ small correction boxes, if at all. I can't say that I have ever seen a large correction in a paper before, but, surprisingly the public wants to see more of them.

I guess the only thing getting in the way is personal ego, professional ego and an organization's credibility. What incredible roadblocks! Because unlike weather forecasters, reporters--good ones--must face their mistakes with grace and humility and hold out for a sunny day, knowing that the rainy ones pour out in equal measure. I think all reporters, because of that reason, are secretly optimistists, waiting for that eternal sunshine.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 11:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 19, 2005

New York, the third Time(s)

Here's the gallery, folks...

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Digesting the readings on the train. Yum, wood pulp.

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First impressions of the Manhattan Broadway.

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The bathroom was bigger than the bedroom. Maybe I should have slept in the tub.

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Things get better when you call home.

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Rainbow Hector was afraid of the room so he stayed on the flowery curtain, high above the madness below.

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American democracy paired with the American press. I was feeling -very- patriotic under these flags.

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Me in front of my dream job office.

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Me in front of my dream neighborhood.

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I love this cathedral. Anne and I went through the doors, but we didn't want to get searched by the guards, so we just poked our heads in the back door. It's a shame Protestants don't usually have such pretty architectural church designs.

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Gosh, take a break man...I thought I had enough on my shoulders!

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Drunk was here.

And no it wasn't me. Anne and I were walking past a cafe and these two bottles were just sitting there, spilling out onto the street. I've always seen bottles like the one in a paper bag in movies, but not in real life. I'm so sheltered.

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Turn out the lights already. I'm tired!

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These are the urine pickles, according to Anne. I took one bite and had to agree that if I had ever tasted urine, this is what it would taste like.

So that wraps up trip three to NYC. What beauties may four through unknown hold? I'm thinking more coffee.

Thank you Seton Hill and the Setonian for this opportunity. It was a wonderful trip, and I hope many more journalism major Setonians get a similar opportunity every year. It's a great experience that really lets you meet a little more of the world.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 10:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 15, 2005

An insider's perspective: NYC at the NYT

Sitting with my legs crossed on a metal chair in Bryant Park, I tasted something sweeter than the fattening mocha cooling in my hand and felt something more uncomfortable than the dress shoes pinching my feet: a peek into what may come.

There's something about New York that gets me every time I visit. Is it the smell of burning hotdogs at the Times Square vendors? The slick suits and I-Pod carriers commuting to work? The honking of taxis? No, it's not really any of those things, but all of those things and many more that keep me coming back with enthusiasm. They aren't the taste of many from where I grow up, but me--I see a start there--a gritty beginning of something that may suit my taste. I really can't put it down, but it's there, nagging me with each turn of the now-familiar corners of Manhattan.

This trip, perhaps more than any of the previous trips, has shown me that maybe I do have a shot in NYC. Why? Because maybe there's real people there, not these mystical, impotent celebrity beings that they or we believe them to be.

Why the impression? In my case, it was several things times during my experience this time around.

My first downsizing of NYC happened the day of the conference, "Inside the Times", that Anne Stadler and I attended at the little publication on 38th Street: The New York Times.

We entered the building, which looked just like any other in New York, and were checked through security in a small area graced with NYT poster-size photography. No super-journalists with huge J's on their chests flying through the revolving doors. Damn--and at the same time--woo hoo.

While we were waiting in the lobby, I watched employees pass through the security checkpoint and noticed that they do the same thing I did every day at the Trib: pass their security badge over a scanner. Simple. Fast. Just on their way to work.

Later, when we--the 50 or so students from several private colleges from throughout the U.S.--were escorted to a ninth-floor auditorium, several editors introduced themselves on stage in their very normal-looking business attire. In my mind, I thought New York Times reporters wore Armani every day and carried a notebook around their neck...or something. How sweet it is to be proved wrong.

The second time was when I saw pics of Donald Trump plastered everywhere through the lobby of the Trump Tower. Why, oh why, that hair? How interesting that his wife looks like a model just down the street at Saks...or maybe Victoria's Secret. Ha.

But back to the conference. The day wasn't as intensive as I thought it would have been, primarily because I was expecting to be drilled on the Associated Press Stylebook or American journalistic ethics. Instead, the morning was surprisingly laid-back with some headline writing and copy-editing exercises.

My headlines weren't picked to be plastered on the overhead screen as "the best" or one of the comedic "bad" ones, so I was okay. A little humbled, but okay. ;) I would've liked one of the shirts or hats they were giving out, but no prob. I'll get one when I start working there. :-)

Later in the afternoon, several of the head journalists who produced the series, Class Matters, appeared at a panel discussion.

One of the presenters, Tamar Lewin, struck me. She talked about her experience with several interviews during her in-depth coverage of class, particularly in the context of one woman, Della Justice.

I felt a connection with the reporters when they talked about meeting with average Americans about everyday issues of income, education, occupation and wealth.

I did something similar this summer when I interviewed for a story on Clymer, Pa. The story isn't online, but I spoke with an elderly woman about her family's experiences in lieu of mine and brick company closings in the area.

I understood the importance that they placed on making several meetings so trust can be built, so that the reporter can understand the fullness of the life in context, and, essentially, so that the reporter can be touched, to impress upon others the importance of the subject.

Lewin also said that the issues that the reporter intends to take up are also important in the public's perception of the story. In the case of this series of stories, she said she knew nothing, so she had to choose carefully the issues of prevalence as the story's interviews developed her direction.

This is often the case: the interviews write the story.

The final component of the day's agenda was the advertising session. The manager of the ad department spoke awhile about ethical advertising, what is and is not allowed in the Times, and then distributed a packet of some ads not permitted in the paper. Nudity disguised as art lithographs, using company logos to bash a company through parody, and interestingly enough, homosexual advertisements--all no-no's for the NY Times.

I can't imagine having his job. One slip and he could have been gone--several times. However, maybe the perks outweigh the extra lines I didn't see on his face.

After the conference, Anne and I returned to our hideous hotel, The Manhattan Broadway, on 38th. We wanted to save money and still have a great location. Yeah, we got that, in addition to a room full of mirrors, hair on the sheets, a shower curtain with a duct-taped rod and some interesting caulked corners throughout the room. Thank God there weren't any bugs.

What an experience. But it wasn't as bad as Mexico lodgings and the front desk people were very nice when they weren't freaking us out about surveillance camera use in the hotel rooms.

One of my favorite about this trip was the train. The romance of a train track and the stations and the beauty of Pennsylvania and New York on a fall day captivated me. I didn't have to worry about filling my tank, parking, making a wrong turn or even if my car was going to die. The kind conductors took care of it all. Trains are roomier than planes or buses, and cheaper; I just don't get it why they aren't bigger in the U.S.

My mom and I are actually planning to take a trip to New York or Philadephia for a weekend train trip. She's adventurous. I like to think I have some of those genes.

I'll update with a photo gallery soon. I'm not off of my blog fast per se. This is sort of required fun blogging.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 11:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 2, 2005

A break

Ladies and gentlemen, I've decided to take my first intentional blogging break. I've thought about it, and really, this is necessary.

I'll only blog if I must for class, but otherwise I am out for a while.

Why?

It's time for me to get some new material, breathe a bit and generally, just figure out a new direction with this thing.

This year's been tough on many fronts of my life. I feel that if I would go on blogging, I would try to get around those things here instead of face them in the real time of my life.

Writing is a wonderful escape, but not always.

I'm signing off for a month. I'll miss everyone.

Until November then...

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 6:24 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack